Katikati Haiku Contest winners for 2021

A total of 404 entries from throughout New Zealand and 32 other countries were received in the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Katikati Haiku Pathway. We were delighted to have some schoolchildren enter even though there was no special category for them this year – we wish you many years of haiku enjoyment. Our grateful thanks to Kings Seeds, a Katikati company, for sponsoring the cash prizes.

Judge’s Comments

It has been an honour to judge the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest, which is judged blind (no names attached to poems). The overall standard was pleasingly high and made short-listing and ranking the poems a pleasurably difficult task.

A few general comments to the beginners who entered. Haiku is a rich and rewarding art form so don’t be disappointed if you haven’t succeeded this time. I would recommend that newer writers read further about haiku, ensuring you use reputable sources. Educating yourself about haiku will eliminate the errors that included putting titles on haiku, rhyming them, and using personification. Haiku NewZ, part of the NZ Poetry Society website, offers many good essays and articles about the craft of haiku.

One of the things to keep in mind as you read the winning poems below is that the very best haiku are about things, but are also, if you’re inclined to think more deeply, also about other things. These tiny poems can hold worlds. Thank you to all the writers who shared their work with me.

– Sandra Simpson, October 2021

First place

autumn rain…
the desire to become
his urn                                                                      

– Cristina Apetrei, Romania

This powerful haiku suffused with longing is a fitting winner of the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest. My reading of it, and so the commentary that follows, is of a mother mourning her son – others may see it as a wife grief-stricken for her husband and that is equally valid. One of the marks of an exceptional haiku is that it remains ‘open’ enough for the reader to bring their own experiences and interpretations to the poem.

Initially, the first line seems simple, a scene setting only, but as we read the rest of the haiku, it’s worth circling back to line one to appreciate the heft it brings to the rest of the poem. In autumn leaves lose their ability to photosynthesise, so colour up and fall (die); it is the season of harvest (in this case of a human); the season when the verdant growth of spring and summer withers and decays. From all this, we might deduce we are mourning a man in his prime. And we can certainly read ‘rain’ as literal rain and metaphorical tears. The ellipses, meanwhile, has the effect of slowing us down as we enter the main part of the haiku, as well as graphically representing raindrops/tears.

The body that grew inside the poet’s for nine months, that relied on hers for nourishment and oxygen, is now ashes. And she fervently wishes she could protect and hold him again, as she did before he was born and many times after. It’s not possible to ‘reanimate’ a dead body and the poet has accepted this – she is not longing for her son to come back to life. Instead, her thoughts have led her to a particular desire, the sort we might find in a Greek myth that is as much curse as solution. She would turn herself into a stone womb for her child and be his protector for evermore.

Second Place

pottery class
i remember what
i am made of                                                          

– Alvin B. Cruz, The Philippines 

Abrahamic tradition (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) relates that God created Adam, the first human, from ‘the dust of the ground’. After the disobedience of Adam and Eve, who was formed from one of Adam’s ribs, God curses Adam, and all of humanity, to die and return to the earth from which he was formed.

Here our narrator – who is in the act of creation – is considering the malleable wet clay beneath his fingers, his mind apparently turning, just as his pottery wheel is spinning or as the layers of a hand-built piece of pottery grow, and making the link between the vessel he is building and the vessel of his own body. The hum of several wheels working in the studio-classroom, and the concentration required to make a plate, mug or bowl, may be adding to his meditative state.

There is an echo of ‘feet of clay’ to be enjoyed too – the pot being made, depending upon the skill of the potter, may end up with a fundamental flaw, perhaps reflecting something the potter feels about himself.

The ancient craft of pottery is a humble one, as are many hand-made vessels. The poet acknowledges his place in the web of life with the lower-case repeating ‘i’ emphasising his own humility – he is not placing himself (and his ego) above the clay he is using. The poem’s words have been chosen carefully and the repeating soft ‘m’ sounds support an overall effect of quietude.

A deeply satisfying haiku on many levels.

Third Place

rattling wind chimes
a breath of sea air
begins its journey                                                 

– Barrie Levine, USA

A lovely sensory haiku using sound and touch with ‘rattling’ a grand onomatopoeic start, and with lots of hard and soft sounds within the poem to imitate both the rattling and the gentle puff of air. The poet invites us to make this moment our own by not offering detail about the wind chimes. Are they metal or wood? In a verandah or a tree? We are allowed to hear whatever melodious sound we like before we move on to discover we’re at the beach (so the wind chimes may be home-made from beach finds).

We can intuit that it’s been a hot, still day, ‘not a breath of wind’, and now the merest hint of briny air is ruffling through the chimes and across our skin, signalling the start of a welcome sea breeze. Anyone who has visited or lived in tropical climes will know well the delicious moment when a late afternoon / evening breeze begins – in Western Australia the phenomenon even has its own name, ‘The Doctor’, for the relief it brings.

The science of a sea breeze is that it is caused by the uneven rates at which land and sea heat and cool – during the day a cool breeze flows from the ocean to the land; at night cool air flows from the land offshore. The poetry of this particular sea breeze is that we witness the moment of its birth – able to see it and hear it, thanks to the wind chimes, before it rolls out towards the ocean, gathering strength as it goes, continuing the cycle that is as old as the planet itself.

Highly Commended

blue sky 
you know the rest                                                 

– Tony Beyer, New Plymouth

when sunlight
becomes moonlight
an owl’s echo                                                         

– Brad Bennett, USA

gust of wind I am grass                                        

– Stefanie Bucifal, Germany

in my shadow
a soundless flock
of shadows                                                              

– Scott Wiggerman, USA

ravens on snow
it’s not all
black and white                                                     

– Jay Friedenberg, USA


the birthmark
that grew with me
plum blossoms                   

– Engin Gülez, Turkey

twilight . . .
a heron soars
to the first star                                                       

– Barrie Levine, USA

autumn breeze
ruffles the reeds…
almost birdsong                                                    

– Neena Singh, India

night pond
a buck hooks
the moon                                                                


tree house
the old oak remembers
Matilda by heart                                                    

– Vandana Parashar, India

sun shower passing
a hillside shimmers
into birdsong

– Marietta McGregor, Australia

skipping a chapter
now and then 
summer breeze                                                     

– Helge Harle, Sweden

Best Local Haiku

spring sun      swallows                 and

– Cathie Bullock, Waihi

This haiku delighted me from the moment I read it, with the poet ably translating the darting, skimming movements of the swallows on to paper to create a visual poem, as well as a word poem. The spring sun is welcome after a long winter – I can imagine its warmth on my face as I watch, with the narrator, these delightful birds enjoying a feast on the wing. Haiku are sometimes described as ‘wordless poems’, that is, the words fall away and we, as readers, share (experience) the moment being described. This is a fine example of a ‘wordless poem’.

Highly Commended

Almost spring
Three young sparrows sitting in a line
On a line

– Pat Watson, Katikati